Secrecy surrounding the future of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital took on a whole new dimension last Thursday when leaders of the citizen task force resorted to a secret ballot process rather than an open forum and vote to decide which recommendations to support as their draft report.
According to several members of the Southeast Healthcare Planning Task Force, chairman Frederick W. Sachs, Jr., and co- chairman Anne Andrews, "decided a vote on the options should be by secret ballot rather than an open show of hands. And the ballots were counted by Inova representatives."
The result was an 8-8 tie of those members present and voting. This left drafting of the report in limbo with another meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12.
"If you are going to make a decision this important, you should be willing to stand up and vote in the open," said Task Force member Jeff McKay, chief of staff to Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. "Herb Harris, Joe Gartlan, [former Congressman and State Senator respectively and members of the task force] and I were the only ones who spoke up for an open vote."
McKay, who drafted an alternative report proposal to that prepared by Pat Walters of Inova Health System (IHS), said, "The chair and co-chair passed out cards. Inova staff counted the vote and we didn't even get a chance to actually see the final tally. I still can't figure out how they got an 8-8 count. This is really a disservice to the public."
Harris brought further doubt on the validity of not only the vote but the overall process when he noted, "The co-chair [Andrews] had a separate meeting at her house on Tuesday night before the meeting. There were four people at that meeting including Susan Herbert [IMVH administrator]."
Gartlan said, "I objected that Inova people voted. Votes from Inova employees are not votes from the community in this context. I will never put my signature to a report that is not representative of the community."
AFTER THE VOTE, "The decision of the chair [Sachs] was to have more meetings and more discussions. I thought it was very important not to just chit-chat, but to take some action and make some recommendations," Harris said.
"I believe the vote was a strategic ploy on the part of Inova to avoid a final report," Harris conjectured. McKay suggested that IHS is delaying due to concerns about their capital plan. "It seems like every time the Task Force meets the deadlines change. In fact everything changes."
Additional doubt was cast on the vote's validity by Dr. Khosrow Matini, an advocate against closing IMVH or diminishing its service and a practicing physician at the hospital as well as former head of its medical staff. A voting member of the task force, he was unable to attend the meeting due to a previous professional commitment out of the area.
"Before I left I gave my proxy vote to Anne Andrews and told her that if their was a vote, to cast my ballot. I voted against the Walters proposal and for the McKay proposal. I had both before the meeting and had read both," Matini verified.
Both Andrews and Sachs were contacted for this story. Sachs would only say that he felt a viable solution was possible and the Task Force was moving ahead. Andrews did not return several messages left on her voice mail.
AT THE CENTER of the controversy are two proposals detailing how the report should be oriented to solve the problem of whether to leave IMVH where it is or relocate the facility nearer Lorton and transform the existing hospital into a healthplex. One proposal was drafted by Walters, the other by McKay.
The Walters' proposal is a 15-page analysis of all aspects, medical, demographic, financial, competitive, and convenience, pertaining to IMVH. It gives the pros and cons of each rationale buttressed by a myriad details.
His draft report boils down to two recommendations:
*Option 1 —
"The Task Force recommends that Inova Health System proceed deliberately to develop a new, "State of the art," expanded service hospital facility at a location more central to the citizens of southeast Fairfax County. Inova must develop appropriate responses to the "Conditions" detailed above (throughout the draft report) and work with a group of representative citizens to support implementation of those responses especially ensuring a continuity of emergency and outpatient care in the areas immediately surrounding the current IMVH location."
*Option 2 —
"The Task Force recommends that Inova Health System maintain IMVH at its current location and further develop IMVH as the provider of hospital services for southeastern Fairfax County. Development of an appropriately sized HealthPlex outpatient and emergency service facility in the Lorton area should be pursued to serve the emerging needs of the growing population in those areas. Relocation should not be considered until such time as major facility renovation and refurbishment is required at the existing IMVH campus. Inova should develop appropriate responses to the "Conditions" detailed above (throughout the draft report) especially ensuring future options are available by acquiring land in central southeast Fairfax County to allow for potential future relocation of IMVH...Inova should develop outpatient and physician services on that site to serve the needs of the southeast Fairfax County area without convenient access to IMVH."
In juxtaposition to the Walters draft report was another submitted by McKay. Although encompassing only five pages, his report made five recommendations that boiled down to two essential conclusions:
1. Maintain IMVH in its present location and strengthen its services.
2. Construct a Healthplex in the Lorton area.
SOME OF THE details of those recommendations included the following:
*The healthplex should include all amenities offered currently at the Franconia-Springfield Healthplex [IFSH], including emergency room services and physician offices, at reduced rent. It should be licensed to IMVH.
*Pursue additional services for IMVH such as Bariatric Surgery and expand some existing services such as the Wound Center.
*Continue the dialogue with the Army to combine services with DeWitt Hospital at Fort Belvoir.
*Continue to monitor Certificate of Public Need [COPN] applications to ensure no approval of for-profit health care facilities in the region.
*Ensure any action aiding IMVH does not jeopardize IFSH.
*Continue the Task Force to make appropriate recommendations to both IHS and the community.
On January 27, prior to the Task Force meeting, the Citizens Alliance Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.), an organization formed by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland to fight any attempt to relocate IMVH, held a meeting of its Executive Committee. It unanimously adopted a resolution that emphasized the following points:
*Keep IMVH at its present location to provide both inpatient and outpatient health care services,
*IHS should provide IMVH "with long needed capital investment to improve...financial performance ...,"
*Support for an additional Healthplex in Lorton licensed by IMVH. That facility to be a complimentary "satellite" to IMVH and not include inpatient care, and
*Support for retention of the Emergency Room at IFSH "to serve residents in that section of the County."
Further discussions toward the development of a final report are expected at the February 12 meeting.